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Beyond The Evanston Liberal Bubble

Following an election that divided the country, Patch columnist Christine Wolf wonders whether we have insulated ourselves too much in Evanston when it comes to politics?

It's got to be hard to be a Republican in Evanston right now, and not just because Barack Obama was re-elected last week.

Yard signs, grocery store conversations, and bumper stickers suggest Evanston’s a solidly Democratic town, and these numbers prove the point: nearly 85% of the November 6th votes cast in Evanston went to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

In a city like Evanston -- where we pride ourselves on our diversity -- what does it feel like to be in the political minority? I can’t imagine it’s been easy.

Evanston Township High School's newspaper, The Evanstonian, recently ran a column by Opinion Editor Daniel Schoenfeld titled, “Democratic Bias Creates Ignorance”. Schoenfeld writes:

“Evanston is a small bubble, and leaving it can come as a culture shock. Evanston’s politics make the rest of Illinois look like raging conservatives. By ignoring their opinions, students are distancing themselves from half of the country.”

I think he’s right on the first part: Evanston is a small bubble, and I usually like that bubble. I like how we’re a vocal, outspoken, let-it-all-hang-out kind of town. I like that so many of us walk around just being ourselves. I like that we keep it real. I like that we’re not perfect, and that our discord often emanates from a common desire to see our community better itself. I like that our bubble encompasses high standards while still maintaining a more relaxed vibe than many of the North Shore suburbs.

But I also think Schoenfeld raises an important point: that balance is critical.

It’s easy (and to some, very appealing) to get “swept away” by the loudest voices in a room, but the loudest voices aren’t always right. Following the unconscionable campaign spending during the 2012 presidential election, I’m thrilled to return to pre-campaign normalcy: I can now answer my phone, check my texts and emails, and watch TV without fervent political messages urging party support.

I'll admit that my initial reaction to Schoenfeld’s column was defensiveness. After all, I voted for Obama and helped raise money for the Obama campaign. On election night, I'd felt physically stressed while watching the results roll in, texting like-minded friends who were also worried Mitt Romney would win. One friend texted that her high school aged son had reassured her that everything would work out and that Obama would be re-elected. Still, she texted me with the concern that she didn't think her son realized "what a bubble we live in" here in Evanston. 

I also wondered, Did I offend Evanston Republicans with my yard signs and grocery store discussions and bumper stickers?

Then, I tried to think from a Republican’s (or Independent’s) point-of-view. I imagined what it must have been like to be in the minority, listening to so many neighbors espousing beliefs so different from my own -- and believing, just as fervently, that I knew the best course for this country.

Some might say, “That’s just the way life is,” but to me, Daniel Schoenfeld is absolutely right: We do need to look beyond the iridescent, internal curvature of our Evanston bubble; not only will it help us understand the world around us, but also to appreciate the company we keep.

millie November 12, 2012 at 11:26 PM
We the People of the State of Illinois are totally responsible for the current condition of the state. We let ONE PARTY RULE
Eric Lieberman November 13, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Just Posted in the ETHS paper: Many Evanstonians have “outsourced their thinking” to the Democratic party. It all became clear to me one day shortly before Nov 6 when the Rep candidate for State Senator, Glenn Farkas and I stood in front of the Lucky Platter on Main Street handing out our literature and trying to engage voters in a discussion about the economy. Voter after voter would instantly ask: “Which party are you?” When we told them “Republican” they’d refuse to talk and pull their hands back from the pamphlets we offered them like they were covered with some sort of virus. Finally, a couple stopped and talked to us, never asking the party question. It was a good conversation about the economy, pension reform, etc. We asked them if they would be voting for us: “No, we are from Rockford”. We should have known. We need many more people like Daniel Schoenfeld (and perhaps Ms. Wolfe) who understand diversity doesn’t just mean religion, nationality or race. That kind of diversity is superficial – diversity of opinion and thought is deeply essential to a healthy society. Eric Lieberman (ejlieberman@gmail.com) P.S. "John - thanks for your recap of the Haven School debate." Best, Eric
John C Thomson November 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM
As an election judge for some 16 or 20 years I have recognized this dominance by the Democrats over Republicans for some time. Let me say as compared to what happened in Philadelphia and other parts of the country the interaction of Election Judges has always been at the respectful level. I have also ran for public office in supposed non-partisan elections and lost on both occasions. I would suggest that the entire city-council is probably Democrats as are most of the staff at City Hall. Most of what drives the hatred between political parties is the agenda that is brought into the picture that might have nothing to do with the abilities of the person, though have a lot to do with whether we would vote for them. From my actions since I had come into the community in '78 the Democrats would have found acceptable; i. e., member of the advisory board of Ceda Neighbors At Work, member of COE-Pops in the early 80's. Even the fact that I had spent 20 years in prison, was not a deal breaker. No body arose in horror over that fact, The deal breaker was the fact I had organized and led a protest against Evanston Hospital's policy and practice regarding abortion. Even as you read this I can hear the sizzle as some of you are now getting heated. And thats what divides the two parties, hatred not politics.
Joanna Spilioti November 13, 2012 at 11:58 AM
This was a thoughtful article. I am an independent voter, tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I have an economics background and I listened to the debates with an open mind. Romney made some very reasonable suggestions, which coincided with the recommendations of Obama's Simpson/Bowles commission. It has not been easy to find anyone similarly minded among my dear Evanston friends and neighbors who tend to assume my voting preferences based on my address. If there is anyone out there, they are probably in their closet...
Joanna Spilioti November 13, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Mr Thomson, you sound like a fine citizen-Democrat or Repuplican, I am proud to have you as a neighbor.
Wire Points November 13, 2012 at 02:56 PM
We in Wilmette joke about looking for that white Evanston vehicle registration sticker whenever see somebody driving around oblivious to how the world around them works. A prosecutor I know uses likes to use his peremptory challenges (the free shots you get during jury selection to strike people you think are biased) against Evanstonians because their minds are closed to the possibility that a defendant may actually be guilty. Evanston is anything but "liberal" in the classic sense of that word. It is close-minded and intolerant. It clings to the comfort of thinking that anybody who disagrees is a Tea Party nutjob, and slapping itself on the back for its race-against-hate bumper stickers, Jan Schakowski yard signs and Whole Foods reusable grocery bags. I hope that kid who wrote the piece in the Evanston Township paper ends up in Wilmette and brings any open-minded friends.
J C November 13, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Liberal Democrats . Now let's see, Evanston is in the middle of the most corrupt county, In the most corrupt state in the entire country. And yet another well known Democrat is on his way to the slammer. Bye Jr....
millie November 13, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Seems to be a NEW COVERUP daily coming out of Washington
J C November 14, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Blagojevich getting a new cushy job in prison.. I knew his buddy would keep an eye out for him... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/blagojevich-prison-job-ne_n_2117798.html?icid=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl10%7Csec3_lnk1%26pLid%3D234228
Anotherfunnyaynrandmoment November 14, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Wire Points- LOL- I live in Evanston, and you are spot on. . Evanston claims to be liberal- Yet is extremely closed minded in very funny ways. Just a few: 1. Turned away Tilted Kilt restaurant- apparently, sexy women are ant-women's lib. 2. Turned away McDonald's at several locations- WE don't want "that kind" here 3. Drug policy- Marijuana possession in open spaces penalty reduced to $50, but get caught with an open beer and the penalty can be as high as $500. Evanstonians love pot, but beer? That's for the slums of Schaumburg. THat's why the mayor tries to shut down the only college bar in town at every opportunity. 4. City Budget- City council giving away tax money to open a wine bar on Howard street... but can't fully fund their police pensions. WHo will be there to fight the crime when the gangbangers on Howard break into the fancy wine bar? 5. Children- City turned away the local soccer association from building out an indoor soccer space using building with no taxes... The city leaders tried desperately to shut down the north end branch library. Evanstonians love giving out money to help our poor black you\th, but something that might help white kids too? Those "rich" north-enders shouldn't be so greedy! As for politics... you can forget about having an intelligent discussion with anyone. IT's all groupthink and Jan S. with her tax evading hubby is big brother.
Christine Wolf November 14, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Joanna Spilioti emailed me this comment and then gave me permission to reprint it here: "Thank you for your thoughtful piece about the Evanston bubble. I am an independent voter and I feel uncomfortable when my dear friends and neighbors in Evanston preclude my voting preferences based on my address. I have not met anyone in the area who listened to the debates without bias, and with a true openness and desire to find out who made more sense in their proposals for the country -they are probably in their closet... I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative and I refuse to be classified and boxed."
Christine Wolf November 14, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Thanks for writing, Candace. Trust me when I say I think Evanston's as diverse as it gets. I grew up in the Illinois suburbs of River Forest, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg & Crystal Lake, and I'll assure you: diversity was non-existent. My article's focus is purely on politics.
Christine Wolf November 14, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Thanks for that history, Steve. I had no idea.
Christine Wolf November 14, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Joan, thanks for speaking your mind here. I really appreciate all the discussion.
Christine Wolf November 14, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Eric, thank you for writing. My take on why people wouldn't even discuss Republican issues has nothing to do with you or your opinions but everything to do with the extremists, the Tea Party folks, and the venom Republicans showed toward Obama. Right or wrong, I think we Evanstonians feel like the "underdogs" of the North Shore, appreciative of new ideas, diversity, acceptance and progressive thinking...and I don't think the Republican party portrayed those sentiments during this past election cycle; they came off as attacking the underdog which, naturally, didn't sit well with us.
John November 15, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Christine, you mentioned Republican extremists and venom in your posts. What was extreme about Mitt Romney? What was the venom you were referencing that kept you from voting for Mitt Romney?
Dan November 15, 2012 at 03:47 AM
"...Donald Rumsfeld, future neo-con war-monger..." "...awaiting Paul Ryan or some other wrong-headed (in so many ways) savior..." "...lunatic right..." Not afraid to slide in a little bias I see.
Daniel Schoenfeld November 15, 2012 at 06:38 AM
I'm the student who wrote the article mentioned above, and I've found all of this incredibly interesting. I love Evanston and always will, but I wrote the article just because I found myself becoming very uncomfortable with the stigma towards anyone who voiced an opposition to the norm. That led to my questioning of whether or not Evanston could really call itself a diverse community. It bothers me that our community is raising its kids with such a raging bias that it really gets in the way of anyone's ability to make an informed choice. That being said, I'm fully aware there are hundreds of places with the same bias against democrats. But just from where I sit, I'd bet that you could have a more balanced political conversation in Wilmette than you could in Evanston because it does contain a more politically diverse populaiton.
Joanna Spilioti November 15, 2012 at 12:02 PM
John Romney was widely defined as an unfeeling plutocrat. When I read a mostly unbiased outline of his life on Time magazine this summer I found out about his admirable life's work, his philanthropy, and how many jobs he has created by supporting successful businesses like Staples office supply stores, Bright Horizons day-care centers etc. Venture capitalism has also been ill-defined. One can disagree with someone's economic and political theoretical approach without assigning evil alterior motives. Similarly, Obama deserves respect and believes that he is doing the right thing for the country. Unfortunately, the way the system works, both sides have to unleash the wild dogs to retain their base and to appeal to voters that instead of paying close attention to the facts, are susceptible to demagoguery.
allofus November 15, 2012 at 02:09 PM
In my case, the reason I will no longer engage Republicans I do not personally know are level-headed is that each time I do, they end up either insulting me, condemning me to hell for my beliefs, degrading me for being a woman, or making vary racist remarks about our president. Some have stood before me with their iphone and latte, telling me how financially difficult their lives have become. I wish it were different, but it is not. If Republicans want to have real conversations with me, they need to enter conversations with an open, non-judgemental mind. And, yes, I do realize that the Republicans of which I speak are the ones who are out there doing the canvassing, posting on FB, and the like. I would LOVE to hear from Republicans who are not spouting hate. I really would. I even requested that my Republican FB friends answer a few questions for me prior to the election in a kind, non-confrontational manner. None replied.
John Brinkmann November 15, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Interesting article Christine---and Daniel...And to the vast minority of Evanston Republicans willing to openly admit to being a Republican, it's most likely they've experienced some form of mockery at one time or another---as evidenced here so eloquently by Steve Newberger---"the loudest inescapable noise is from the lunatic right" As for myself, I'm a moderate conservative sans any ties to the Republican Party but whenever I engage in political discourse with fellow Evanstonians, the next time we meet it’s clearly obvious I've already been branded with "GOP" across my forehead---I've gotten used to it and it doesn't bother me….I admire Daniel for his thought provoking piece and guts to call it as it is---and to Christine for keeping an open mind...One side can't be right as much as Evanston liberals believe or else we wouldn't have any problems---and interestingly shown by the Chicago Tribune's eye opening decision not to endorse Jan Schakowsky's bid for an 8th straight term as our 9th Congressional rep in Washington. Even the Trib figured out someone who votes along party lines 95% of the time has totally lost any objectivity...All the same Schakowsky still enjoyed another comfortable victory...So Evanston voters continued support of the controversial Schakowsky can be looked upon as solid representation of her constituents, but for me shows we do live in a "liberal bubble" that requires a more open minded look at the whole picture.
Dan Cox November 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM
I find that people who own Guns and are not intimidated by name calling types from Northwestern University, are much more fun and relaxed. I work all over the Northshore as a Plumbing Contractor and the old guy with a shotgun proped up in the corner of the kitchen, isnt the one peering out the window at every sound or unusual noise outside. It is the anti-gun Progressive Liberal, that lives in fear and has a cell phone in their hand to call 911, in hopes that the Police can keep them safe. Now thats a bubble, and as the Lady's at Lane Bryant found out... a cell phone only tells the Police where to come find their bodies!
E. Moran November 18, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I have lived and raised my children here in Evanston. I lost count of the number of times that I have been in situations where anti 'anyone but a Democrat' comments were made, assuming everyone present was in total agreement. I have never professed to believe all tenets of any political party, but the Democrats in this town sometimes comes across as rabid and smug.
Wire Points November 18, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Stay on it, kid!. The world needs people like you who challenge orthodoxy. Wherever your political views end up as you age, you will know they grew out of reason and balance. Maybe you'll end up writing some things for us at WirePoints.com -- yours is the kind of voice we want there.
Jim Osburn November 18, 2012 at 08:33 PM
It's wonderful that, in the midst of this Liberal bubble, a young person publishes an article with such a grasp of the obvious. Daniel, keep it up, thinking may not always be in vogue, but it's always better than keeping with the herd mentality. You provide inspiration to those who have kept to themselves in frustration. Thank you Christine for bringing this to a wider audience. Thank you Eric for letting us know that we are not alone.
Lyn Warner November 18, 2012 at 08:51 PM
I was born and raised in Evanston. When I returned here after being away for 27 years I was appalled at how the city, the environment, the very air had changed here and not for the better. At one point in time ETHS was one of the top schools in the country. The teachers taught us to ask the question 'why' and to look beyond the surface for what is really happening. There may be 'diversity' here but not as far as thinking goes, it seems that everyone thinks the same way except for a few brave souls that understand what true diversity is and take the time to ask the question 'why' and 'what's really going on here?' This used to be a great place to live but not any more. Business are fleeing this town as fast as they can. Downtown is no longer a fun place to go on Saturdays. And it's Dykie Stadium not Ryan Field. Good grief this place is such a disappointment and small minded and in a bubble.
Steve Newberger November 19, 2012 at 12:57 AM
My original point: we've changed utterly since 1958. Refreshingly progressive modernism has supplanted rock-ribbed Republican narrow-mindedness. Whole Foods has replaced Smithfield's. I will never forget reading a story in the weekly paper of that era, describing the subject of the story as a newcomer: she'd lived here 15 years! No one should mourn the old Evanston; everyone is better off in today's Evanston. And folks, if you don't believe that, put yourself where your (often regrettably snarky) words are (and, shotguns, apparently), and run for election.
John November 19, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Just a random thought, but for those who have stated thoughts (negative or positive) whether democrat or republican, what would happen to these sentences if we changed the word democrat to Christian or the word republican to Jewish or republican to Asian and democrat to Afro American and the word progressive Latino? Re-read some of these postings and it is scary. For instance Mr. Newberger's post (for example, if we switch Republican for Asian) would read, "...supplanted rock-ribbed Asian narrow-mindedness..." Or, E Moran's "...anyone but a Democrat" changing Democrat to Latino becomes,"...anyone but a Latino" Do we realize how this sounds? Do we realize how intolerant we have become regarding diversity of thought? Does this make for a welcoming tolerant community?
Steve Newberger November 21, 2012 at 01:17 AM
John, and note, John, that I am not bashful about my full identity here, if you are unhappy with the tone of discourse on this site, reading Rupert Murdoch's papers and columnists, watching his Fox News, and listening to Rush Limbaugh must leave you truly nauseous. Me too, actually, about those things. I really don't believe my comments come close. I'm actually quite tolerant. Unfortunately, the other side doesn't seem to be.
John November 21, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Sorry if I offended you Steve. My point was while Evanston celebrates diversity of culture and faith it doesn't celebrate diversity of thought. It would be great if we realized that there are extremes in faith and culture and there are extremes in political thought. 98% of republicans in Evanston are reasonable thoughtful people and 98% of all democrats are reasonable thoughtful people. There are valid thoughts that come from both democrats and republicans. The extreme 2% (whether politics or culturally) are always polarizing. My only wish is for Evanston to embrace diversity of thought with the same verve that Evanston embraces faith and culture. It would be great to see republican yard signs viewed with the same respect as democrat yard signs (the classic for us was when our Brady for governor sign was run over by a mom pushing a stroller!). For what it's worth I listen to Mark Belling on AM1130...Have a great Thanksgiving.

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